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A Darker Shade of Blue: Depression Predicts Distortion in Memory for Daily Emotional Experience


Memories for emotional experiences are influenced by a person's mood at the time of recall. This makes evaluating memory accuracy particularly challenging when asking about the daily experiences of people with a history of depression. People who report depressive symptoms typically experience negative moods and report more negative life experiences. As a result, it is unclear the extent to which their memories reflect a negativity bias based on their negative mood at the time of recall, or instead accurately represent their prior experiences. Using data from a daily diary study (N = 1,657), the association between meeting criteria for depression in the past year and bias in memory for positive and negative emotional experiences that occurred during the prior week was examined. It was further tested whether trait negative affect (TNA) and trait positive affect (TPA) explained these associations. Overall, people recalled more negative emotional experiences from the past week than they had indicated in daily reports. Recalled negative emotions, but not positive emotions, differed more from daily reports for those with a recent history of depression. TNA fully explained this association, and both TNA and TPA influenced how emotions were recalled. Specifically, higher TNA was related to greater overestimation, and higher TPA was related to less overestimation, in recalling negative emotions.

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